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Does this mean I'm not getting that job at McDonalds?

WARNING: You will walk away from this either believing that tattoos are a whole lot more than you've been told they are, or you'll walk away from it thinking that I'm totally delusional and, well, insane. But that's OK. Also, please be aware that this experience documents and probably glorifies activities that are dangerous on personal, social, and spiritual levels.

I've wanted my face tattooed for as long as I can remember being cognisant of the fact that it was an option. For the past ten years I've been telling myself, "when you turn thirty, if you still want it, you'll know you're ready." Well, I'm 29 and a half now, so given my otherwise poor impulse control, I think I did pretty well.

It's always hard to say where one's drives come from... In my case, I've always had a fascination with body marking, and whenever I drew pictures of myself as a youth, they had full-body markings, including facial, and I regularly drew designs on myself temporarily -- I firmly believe that on some instinctual level I am "meant" to express and explore myself through body modification. However, even though I have always worked in fields that were very tolerant of non-mainstream appearances, I was aware that there's not much you can do that's more socially drastic than a full facial tattoo.

I should probably very quickly recap my life in terms of a few events that were important in my youth in regards to this particular tattoo. If you're more interested in the procedural and technical aspects of this experience, you can skip down to about the point where the pictures begin.

When I was I think seventeen I began taking LSD, and I kept doing so fairly heavily for a period of about three years. I rarely took the drug recreationally (and in hindsight I realize that the few genuinely self-destructive experiences I had were due to not taking it seriously enough), but instead chose to focus it on introspective journeys both into my own psyche and my relationship with the rest of the universe.

On larger quantities I found myself stepping outside my body, and into the "thought lattice" that I perceive the universe as being constructed of. It's hard to describe events that take place on another plane of existence, but to simplify metaphorically, imagine if the meaningful building blocks of the universe are not matter and physical energy, but instead ideas and thoughts, connected by a multi-dimensional web of thought pathways.

Because I was young, inexperienced, uneducated, and somewhat mentally unstable (or at least stressed) at the time, I don't think I ever really "got it", but the things I'd seen gave me a foundation that I'd later find essential.

Eventually I discovered the body modification community and moved from being a lone individual modifying his body to someone who was actively involved both in the social aspects of body modification and the proliferation and promotion thereof both through this website and by working at tattoo and piercing studios. My ears were eventually stretched to over two inches (you can read the first part of that story on BME, titled 'The day I got drunk, saw MC Hammer, and ended up with 2" earlobes') and I had first my forearms, and then my hands tattooed (on BME as 'Six Years of Black Arms').

There was no turning back!

My ears had reached a point where there was nothing I could do to disguise their true nature (not that I wanted to), and the prominent tattoos were impossible to hide short of gloves. But still, while I dreamed about a facial tattoo, I continued to put it off. At the time I told myself I was waiting because I wanted to be sure, but now I realize I was actually waiting because I simply didn't understand yet what tattoo I was supposed to get.

After all, tattooing is a form of communication, and tattooing one's face is one of the loudest ways to communicate using that medium -- I needed to be sure of what I was saying before I said it permanently.

Eventually I became involved in the formation of a suspension group (iWasCured) and had the opportunity to see body rituals performed by dozens of different people in different contexts and with different expectations. One of the things that struck me was its parallels with the psychedelic drug experience. While most of the group disagreed with my conclusions, a number that had similar psychotropic backgrounds saw the same similarities, ranging from altered consciousness to full-on astral projection and access to "alternate dimensions".

Shortly thereafter I became involved in a "religious start-up" that attempted to legally protect body modification activities under the guise of religion. While I eventually came to vehemently disagree with the core tenets and staff of this group and time has, I believe, proven it to be a mistake both on my part and on the part of many others, my zeal for it gave me the push I needed to plunge into a facial tattoo, albeit a small one.

Along my right temple, radiating out from my eyebrow, my friend and tattoo artist Shane Faulkner (owner of King of Fools in Toronto) tattooed three straight white lines, each about a quarter inch in width. My skin has a slight yellow/olive hue, so once healed the lines carried that same tone. Even with people who were experienced with tattoos, it was rare for it to be recognised as anything but a brand or scar -- people just aren't used to seeing all-white tattoos.

I expected that this tattoo would change my interaction with the mainstream world, but to be perfectly honest, my hand tattoos were more noticeable, and my ears were more "freaky", so I don't think I've ever received a negative reaction about it that wasn't preceeded by a negative reaction to one of my other mods first.

In any case, the breakup of and from the group that had kick-started the tattoo was one of the most emotionally difficult things I've ever had to deal with, and it forced me to spend a year thinking very hard about what I believed in and exactly how I perceived the world spiritually. I re-familiarised myself with Western religions (one of my first tattoos was two pieces of Biblical scripture, Romans 3:28 and chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians) and both Eastern faiths and "primitive" Shamanic belief structures, trying to grasp some commonality that ran through all of them that I could line up with my own experiences.

I believe that God is knowable. I don't believe it when people say that it's just a matter of faith; my experience has lead me to the conclusion that we can determine the nature of God through direct hands on contact (some of the experiences that helped bring me to that conclusion are summed up on BME in the experience titled 'DMT, Forehead Pulls, and Friendship Show the True Nature of the Universe'). For me, twelve years of exploration have consistently revealed a world constructed of thought, where all of us are conjoined as elements of a single super-being, and that concept is in part what I wanted to express with my facial tattoo.

OK, over twelve-hundred words later and I'm finally getting to the point where I can tell the actual story of this tattoo.

About nine months ago I expressed these desires to Shane and gave him a bunch of crop circle drawings to use in part as source material -- crop circles not because I sought to mimic them or quote them in any way, but because the interlocked circles they contain were reminiscent of the underlying latticework of the universe. When I went in, the design that had been worked out didn't echo what I was thinking, so we ended up doing some different work, I think on my sleeve, and the facial work was temporarily moth-balled. Shortly thereafter I moved out of the city to live with a friend on his corn farm.

Moving out of the city allowed me a little bit more serenity, letting me far more clearly collect my thoughts than I was able to living in the downtown core of a bustling metropolis. I grew utterly convinced -- not blindly, but through what I consider hands-on research -- that my world-view had a very solid and truthful foundation. I set about trying to express this as a tattoo. I think part of me wanted to make sure that I had this tattoo before the birth of my first child, an event that is precariously close as I write this.

While I first tried to work on the design by simply drawing on pictures of myself, it's hard to design a white tattoo because pens of course tend to be dark. In addition, a two dimensional picture simply doesn't do justice to the dynamic of a moving three-dimensional body. Every morning before my shower I used a cotton-swab to paint potential designs on my face using toothpaste*. The toothpaste burned slightly, but I think that was good because it gave me a deeper connection to the design.

  • Note to housemates: Don't worry, no contamination occurred!

In addition, using this method of design rather than simply drawing caused me to subconsciously echo African face-painting designs more so than anything crop-circle related. I believe this was a good thing, because on a "nerd" level I have a love for science fiction and it would have been very easy to fall into a trap of creating something fantastical rather than something "true". And given the choice, I'd like my tattoos to speak of truth, not fantasy.

After having roughed out a number of ideas, I made a full-day appointment with Shane and told him I'd send him a package with some of the ideas I'd been bouncing around. I trust him both as an artist and a friend, so I knew I'd be able to work with him to express myself clearly.

I took a number of digital pictures of myself and brought them into Photoshop. Using a drawing tablet, I sketched dozens of potential designs (I created a "screened" transparent layer on top of the photo and drew with a pale yellow ink which closely mimicked the look of a healed white tattoo). I put them in an overnight mailer and sent them Shane's way, and about two weeks later my wife Rachel and I travelled to Toronto.

The sketch that you see circled in red was both Shane's "first choice" and the one that I felt came closest to physically expressing that which has no meaning in the physical world. It was built around a series of circles, lines, and dots, representing the nodes and pathways both in me and those that connect me to you and everyone else. The white ink motif was chosen because a white ink tattoo appears to sit both slightly inside and slightly outside the body, which I felt best connected me to the tattoo on an aesthetic level -- it both held me together and opened me up.

Shane had also tossed around some design ideas such as the one on the right, combining my ideas with both graphic design sensibilities and hotrod pin-striping. Ultimately though we kept it very simple and felt that we needed to keep the design fairly pure and uncomplicated. In addition, I wanted to make sure that I wasn't borrowing directly from anything that had a meaning of its own -- I wanted a tattoo that design-wise was a clean slate, so as not to allude to ideas that I didn't feel it related to.

I should mention that I'd asked Rachel to leave during this drawing and brainstorming session. While another friend was there documenting the event on video, he is pretty good about being "invisible". Because of my obvious Love for Rachel, I knew that my overwhelming desire to seek her approval would put me in a position where I'd alter the final design not so much to express what I was trying to say, but to "make myself more attractive to her". Now, there's nothing wrong with that, and I do have a number of tattoos that I got just because I thought they'd look good, but it wasn't what I wanted to do with this tattoo. I know it's a little silly, but I needed my vision to stay clear, and let's face it, if Rachel's around, that's where my vision gets directed!

We also opted to keep my face relatively untouched and focus the design around the forehead; for me this was the most relevant as for whatever reason it's been one of my main points of bod mod interest. I've had I think six or eight forehead piercings, implants, pocketings, and have done several forehead flesh hook pulls. I believe that both by keeping the tattoo relatively uncluttered on the face and directing it at my eyes, as well as punctuating that with a third eye reference we've created something that will be, at least subconsciously, interpreted as a form of language with meaning, not just a pretty aesthetic statement.

After sketching briefly on paper, we tried to draw the design on my face using a marker. While a few of my designs had been asymmetrical (like most people, my head and my hairline are not 100% mirrored along the centre-line), we opted to at least try and keep it balanced. I believe that the process of drawing freehand and then making stencils took us a solid four hours of work.

One of the things you'll notice in the photos above is the lines that cross my eyes. While I don't believe that eyes are necessarily "doorways to the soul" on any real level, it's certainly true on a metaphorical level, so I felt strongly that integrating my eyes into the tattoo was essential. To do this, the lines on the temples were meant to cross down over the orbit of the eye, and then across the lid itself, and then continue below the eyes to the edge of the nose. This has the effect, I hope, of drawing the viewer's eyes into mine, and then pulling their focus up to the third eye point.

That and I think it looks cool. :-)

In any case, we began to tattoo. For some reason it was almost impossible for me to localise where was being tattooed precisely; looking in the hand mirror for reference between strokes I was often as much as two inches off in my estimates.

We began by tattooing in the outline with a very watered down white ink, with plenty of alcohol in order to create an easy to follow inkless stencil. The actual stencil was rubbed off bit by bit as we went along in the hopes of minimising contamination. The outline was fairly painful, probably about the same as tattooing my hands. I suspect a lot of this pain was from the bulk of alcohol that we were using.

After the outline was in place we took a quick break so I could have a bite to eat -- in my experience, the more you've eaten, the more tattooing you can handle. We then started to fill in the tattoo. That part wasn't really too bad, and Rachel had returned to hold my hand when I needed it, and a number of friends had stopped by to say hello. Having them around made the pain aspect almost inconsequential, as I knew I was absolutely surrounded by people who were willing to protect me, and vice-versa.

I tried to stay hyper-aware of what was happening to me, slowing down time internally so I could feel the individual needle brushstrokes -- I think I did this subconsciously before actually cluing in to it, and asked Shane why he was running his machine so slowly. The only parts of the tattoo that I found physically difficult to take were the peaks of the temples where the skin was very thin over the bone.

The only part of the main tattoo that really spiritually struck me as we were doing it was the central "third eye" part of the design -- its border crosses directly over the scars from the last forehead pull I did. As the needle penetrated that flesh, suddenly I felt myself snap off of the tattoo bench and I was back at a BME BBQ, with a hook through my forehead, reliving that experience, while still fully aware of the tattooing experience. I believe that on some level time folded and the two moments became conjoined.

When we'd completed this main tattooing it was time to move on to the eyelids. I have to admit that I was quite terrified. Logically I knew that I was going to be fine -- after all, I personally know a handful of people with tattoos over their eyelids, and given that old ladies can handle it a la cosmetic tattooing, there was no excuse for my trepidation. But still, I felt the same sense of impending doom that I felt when I got my uvula pierced (a story I still have to write for BME).

I almost backed out, and I think Shane almost backed out as well, but we decided to go for it, at least as far down the socket as we felt was no-questions-asked safe, agreeing that we'd follow it up and complete it after obtaining a shield to place under the eyelid (thank god for owning a medical supply company, right?).

Because I was so nervous, I asked Shane what felt like a very awkward question, which will probably embarrass me when I eventually watch the video.

Me: Do you mind if I touch you while you're doing this? Shane: Why? Me: If I can rest my hand on your shoulder I'll know what you're doing and it'll make me a lot more secure in what's going on. Shane: What, in a psychic way? (laughs) Me: Just so I can tell what you're doing. Shane: Yeah, as long as it's not hindering my motion.

Now, that was a little bit of a white lie on my part, because I did mean in part "in a psychic way". By touching a person, especially someone that I know fairly well, I can easily access their nervous system and tell what they're doing and what they're feeling and on some primitive level tell what they're thinking. I believe this is a skill that any open-minded person can develop with relative ease -- my problem is that I can't turn it off, which is why I don't enjoy piercing the general public in a studio environment and tend to have physically "shy" mannerisms... But that's an entirely different story!

While he tattooed, I reached my arm back and rested my hand on the back of his shoulder. In effect I was creating a conjoined being that was tattooing itself, and I passed that knowledge on to my body, which seemed to reassure it. We brought the tattoo about half way down the socket to the lid -- far enough that when my eyes were open the line travelled right to the fold of the lid. We did that on both sides with the innermost line, did a tiny bit of excruciating touch-up on the top part, and then with about four and a half hours of tattooing complete, called it a day.

Hopefully in about two weeks I'll go back and finish the lid tattoos.

When we were done, I sat on the edge of the bench for a moment and found myself slipping out of my body... At first I thought I'd just given myself a head-rush or was going to pass out, but then a giant undulating roar built up around me.

Shane was in front of me, and I don't remember who was standing on each side of me. I believe it was Rachel on one side and Badur on the other. They were talking, and while the physical part of me certainly was understanding them and I think even responding to them, I felt myself entering and exiting my body, with my visual perception following my projection rather than my optic nerve's apex.

The perspective in the room kept changing, and I saw the people around me fluctuate in age; I was moving sideways through time. I've been through far more intense tattooing (although not in a long time) so I don't believe this was a simple physical exhaustion response -- we'd symbolically connected my physical form with larger pathways and modes of transit, and I was letting myself know that it was real.

After what I'm guessing was between thirty seconds and a minute, I concentrated hard on snapping myself back so I fit in my body, and things returned to normal. We cleaned up the tattoo, bandaged it up with a hilarious contraption of meat-packing pads and tensor-bandage, and after another brief social rendezvous Rachel and I headed back to the train station.

It was a midnight train, so we decided to upgrade our ticket to the sleeper car. I noticed the young attendant looking at my "just back from 'Nam" bandage, so I said to Rachel, "if anyone asks, we were visiting a friend's house and his monkey bit me."

The attendant laughed, and asked me "Aren't you the guy that has the BME BBQs? Did you put some more hooks through your forehead?"

Small world -- he went on to tell us that he'd come to a couple of the BBQs and had seen me do a forehead pull with Marty and while he himself wasn't pierced or tattooed yet (he'd come with friends who had IAM pages), he emphasised that the people he'd met from IAM were some of the nicest folks he'd ever met and that the vibe at the BBQ was really wonderful.

We headed down to the lounge, and then to the train. I managed to get a couple hours sleep on the train, and when we got home I had a small pipeful and vegged out in front of the TV for a while (and yes, I realize how pathetically mundane and shallow that must seem as a conclusion to that epic day). The marijuana heightened my senses and I could feel my body starting to heal the tattoo (or to put it another way, my forehead felt like it was on fire).

It's not even twenty four hours after the tattoo as I write this, so I still have almost all of the healing to look forward to. Other than my eyes being very dry (although they're not swollen), it's not really any different than healing any other tattoo. I can't wait for the skin to expunge the top ink and rebuild its surface layers, bringing me to the translucent point I'm looking for, and I look forward to completing the eyelid pieces.

People have already asked me whether this design will continue down onto my lower face, and to be honest, I don't know. I don't have any plans right now, but when the universe tells me what tattoo would be best for my neck, I'll decide how to connect my head to my body. For now I'm very happy with the piece as it stands.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my story.

Much Love, and Luck in your own journeys,

Shannon

Details

submitted by: Anonymous
on: 14 March 2003
in Tattoos

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Artist: Shane+Faulkner
Studio: King+of+Fools
Location: Toronto%2C+Canada

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